Drafted by: Milwaukee Bucks, No. 48 overall
Traded to: Atlanta Hawks for a future second-round pick
Height/Weight: 6'5", 226 lbs
Age: 22 years old
Projected NBA Position: Shooting Guard
Pro Comparison: Less athletic Lance Stephenson
Twitter Handle: N/A
A fifth-year senior, Lamar Patterson is one of those rare prospects who entered college as a rather nondescript recruit and continued to elevate his game without skipping a beat. According to Rivals, he was only a 3-star prospect who didn't even rank in the nation's top 100 when leaving St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, New Jersey.
But that was a long time ago.
The 6'5" wingman—he played small forward at Pittsburgh but will have to line up at the 2 in the NBA—began his collegiate career as a redshirt freshman. Then he became nothing more than a glue guy in the rotation, far from earning any type of star designation.
But as a senior, he exploded.
While maintaining his great defensive presence, he took over as a primary ball-handler for the Panthers and transformed into an offensive star. After averaging 14.8 points and 4.2 assists per 40 minutes as a junior, per Sports-Reference.com, he suddenly started contributing 21.0 points and 5.2 dimes in his senior year.
That's a huge difference, just like the disparity between his NBA hopes as a redshirt freshman and his dreams of playing in the Association after five years at Pittsburgh.
This is a problematic portion for Patterson.
Even though he's a wing player, he's a below-the-rim guy who is never going to dazzle the opposition with his athletic exploits. Though he's not particularly slow-footed or limited in the vertical-jump department, he doesn't stand out either.
Additionally, he's only 6'5".
Though he played small forward more than any other position at Pittsburgh, he's going to have to shift over one slot in the lineup. With his height, he'll already be giving up inches to a few 2-guards in the Association, and he'd face far too much of a size deficit if he lined up at the 3.
He does have length and strength, which help make up for the disadvantage in height, but it's his smart and skillful play that trumps the lack of explosiveness and overall athleticism.
Intelligent Wing Defender
Typically, players without a size advantage and devoid of elite-level lateral quickness don't project as quality wing defenders at the next level. However, Patterson is not a typical prospect.
Over his five years playing college ball, he gained quite a few veteran tricks, which allow him to anticipate plays before they develop and get that mental jump that helps make up for his slower first step. The combination of that savvy and his length is a brutal one for opponents.
It's quite rare to find Patterson out of position on the defensive end, as he loves contesting shots but also understands which spots he needs to get to in a hurry. Never lacking effort, he's a blue-collar player on this end of the court, which is an advantage in and of itself.
He won't be quite the shutdown defender he was while playing for head coach Jamie Dixon, but he's still going to be well above average on the wings, especially once he develops a fundamental understanding of the plays that are typically run by NBA squads.
Contributes on the Boards
During the last four seasons of his career at Pittsburgh, Patterson averaged at least six rebounds per 40 minutes. That's incredible consistency on the glass for a player who suits up at a position that is not typically associated with stellar rebounding.
"As a rebounder, Patterson makes an impact on both ends of the floor with his instincts and competitiveness," writes DraftExpress.com's Matt Kamalsky. "Doing a great job using his length on the offensive glass and boxing out defensively, Patterson isn't shy about pursuing the ball in traffic and is a solid rebounder for his position."
It's hard to complain about a set of skills that includes quality work on both types of glass.
On the offensive end, he is a decent rebounder, mostly because of his nonstop motor and desire to earn second chances for his team. Even if he sometimes sacrifices transition points, his willingness to crash the boards as soon as a shot goes up is beneficial far more often than it's detrimental.
But it's still on the defensive end that the 22-year-old stands out.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Patterson's game is his ability to serve as a primary distributor from the wings. He didn't use a lot of possessions for Pittsburgh until his senior year, which should prepare him nicely for the next level, but he always managed to make the most of those touches.
During his senior season, he recorded 4.3 dimes per contest, and per Sports-Reference.com, he recorded assists on nearly 30 percent of the shots his teammates hit from the field while he was on the floor. That's an inordinately high number for a non-point guard.
His floor vision is incredible, and he has just enough ball-handling skills to get a bit of space with hesitation moves and put the ball into the passing lanes that open up. That's the second key skill, as he not only sees plays and angles developing but also has the passing chops to deliver the rock on target.
Being able to run offensive sets through the wing is a distinct possibility when Patterson is on the court.
What happens when he is thrown out onto the court against one of the NBA's many ultra-athletic wings?
As a below-the-rim prospect devoid of a great deal of athleticism or quickness, he could struggle on both ends. Without gaining separation through his intelligence and shifty handles on the perimeter, he's going to have trouble distributing the ball as effectively as he did at Pittsburgh. And defensively, the wear and tear of guarding a standout player each and every night could take its toll, especially on his vaunted mental game.
Additionally, Patterson is a limited offensive player.
Even though he's the rare wing player who stands out as a passer, his jumper is a weakness, and he often has trouble creating looks for himself. He did hit 38.8 percent of his three-point looks as a senior while taking 5.7 attempts per game, but it's unlikely he gets as many clean tries at the next level.
Plus, there's the issue of the expanding three-point arc. Thus far, that appears as though it will push his range past the breaking point.
There's almost always a spot for a hardworking player who makes good decisions on both ends of the court. Even if his production might lag behind some of the more talented prospects, Patterson is the type of player with whom coaches can't help but fall in love.
Granted, that spot is likely to be one at the very end of a rotation.
Even though he can play quality defense, out-rebound most players at his position and serve as an offensive hub because of his passing skills, he's not athletic enough to hang with the vast majority of the NBA until he proves that his defined assets in a niche role will aid the team greatly.
He will never be a starter on a high-quality team—maybe on a lottery-bound one that's looking for a decent option but not on a squad that is expected to compete for a title.
The best-case scenario is that he continues honing his perimeter jumper, which would allow him to transform into a "three-and-D" player who can also handle the ball and distribute it to his teammates. But he's not going to be a primary scoring option.
Or a secondary one, for that matter.
Given his work ethic and the improvement he showed throughout his five-year college career, it's tough to bet against Patterson. He has consistently done whatever was necessary to improve his basketball skills, and that trend shouldn't be screeching to a halt anytime soon.